Coronavirus fails to dampen spirits across electric vehicle eco-system

The World EV Day will bring the focus back on how important EVs are from the pollution angle and whether issues like affordability and range have been addressed, especially in a country like India
The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has not dampened the spirits of industrial players across the electric vehicle (EV) eco-system.

Not that the virus-induced lockdown has not hit the industry, but this segment of the mobility business is electrifying itself again with the first World EV Day being celebrated on Wednesday.

Instituted by Green TV and ABB, the Swiss power technology and product major, and partnered by a host of automobile makers across the globe, the World EV Day will bring the focus back on how important EVs are from the pollution angle and whether issues like affordability and range have been addressed, especially in a country like India.

C P Vyas, president, electrification business, ABB India, told Business Standard there was greater awareness about the environment, which means “we have to take responsibility for our actions on climate change and global emissions”.

The company’s electrification business division offers EV-charging solutions.

Vyas cited the Global Project 2020 to say there could be a 5 per cent, or 2.5 billion tonne, fall in global carbon emissions.

“Some experts believe we could witness the largest short-term decrease in emission caused by human activity in this century. It is important as an industry that we maintain that trend for the long term. Electric vehicle is a key way to achieve that," he said.
Jeetender Sharma, founder and managing director, electric scooter company Okinawa, sees a significant change in the mindset of the people, who are becoming more environment friendly.

“In the longer run EVs are more economically viable than conventional-fuel vehicles. This has struck the right chord,”he said.
E-scooters, along with public transport, nevertheless, were the first to electrify. EV offers in India, however, have also touched the high end of Hyundai’s Kona, Tata’s Nexon, and MG Motor’s ZS.

The Tata Nexon, in fact, is the highest selling four-wheeler EV in the industry, helping Tata Motors rack up a market share of 62 per cent in EVs in April-June 2020.

Sharma said the Covid-19 pandemic had been difficult for the industry, but the need to have private vehicles was being felt even more now.

Though manufacturers, like Okinawa, say they have reached the pre-pandemic level of sales, EV aggregation and cab service providers, which are bulk buyers of these vehicles, say their businesses are still inching back to normal levels. Lithium Urban Technologies, for instance, is about 50 per cent back to pre-Covid-19 levels and expects the remaining to recover by January next year.

Ashwin Mahesh, co-founder and chief executive officer, Lithium Urban Technologies, said, “About 20 per cent of the fleet is now being run for new clients that we signed up during the shutdown. That's a really good sign of the demand.”

The company has about 1,150 cars in various cities but has plans to expand, though with the Covid-19 pandemic, it is waiting for newer clients to reopen their businesses since many establishments continue to follow work from home.

Battery, vehicle and charging technology are being targeted to make vehicles lighter and cost-effective. For vehicles, cost is an important component in decision making especially when it comes to public transport. At the higher end of the market, however, connected or smart cars, like ZS and Kona, will be bought for their wider offerings or features. Being environment friendly also acts as a tag for the socially conscious rich.

Besides, as Vyas pointed out, the government’s efforts to reduce air pollution and improve liveability through the smart cities model warrant a unique and indigenous approach to decarbonise the transportation sector.

“The internal combustion engine (ICE)-based vehicles space is also transforming to more sustainable transport solutions with the introduction of BS-VI technology. The coexistence of ICE-based vehicles and EVs creates a composite model, providing India the opportunity to leverage its strength in mobility technology globally,”he said.

Despite being a non-automobile company, ABB has been at the forefront of promoting EVs. It has been the title partner of the ABB FIA Formula E championship, a racing event for EVs, since Season 4. It would be using its newest offerings in charging technology for Season 9 scheduled after two years with Gen3 cars. The company said this charging technology would not only improve the racing product but also showcase the potential of enhanced charging capabilities for electric vehicles.

Vyas said when ABB forayed into EV charging business in 2010, it was “a far away reality” to have technology that could charge a bus in under six minutes, or enable driving an electric vehicle over 200 miles without recharge, or even travel across an entire city on an electric bus network. “Our technology has made all of these possible,” he said.

ABB has over 14,000 DC fast chargers installed across more than 80 countries. It started with the acquisition of the Epyon DC fast charging company nine years back. Other European companies like Fortum also provide cloud-based services for remote monitoring, servicing of chargers and even locating and booking charging points for vehicles. While the Finnish government-owned Fortum put up an AC charger to begin with in New Delhi back in 2017, ABB, too, launched several of them since 2018.

One of the crucial changes since the early days of EVs, however, is the emphasis on green power generation and battery storage. With 62 per cent of India’s power generation capacity being coal-based and another 12 per cent being in environmentally controversial hydropower sector, questions are raised on how far EVs prevent pollution. Underscoring the need for sustainable energy sources, Mahesh said, “About half of the power we consume at Lithium is now coming from renewables, and that will grow to be an even higher percentage soon.” He is hopeful that a tipping point in the shift to EVs would come sometime in the next 18-36 months, “as all the pieces come together - vehicle availability, performance, charging infrastructure, financing, and a lot more”.


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